A 120-year record of the spatial and temporal distribution of gravestone decay and acid deposition

Howard D Mooers, Avery R. Cota-Guertin, Ronald R. Regal, Anthony R. Sames, Amanda J. Dekan, Linnea M. Henkels

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


This investigation examines the spatial and temporal variability of marble gravestone decay throughout West Midlands County and adjacent portions of Warwickshire, Staffordshire, and Worcestershire. Gravestone decay has been used effectively as a quantitative measure of acid deposition. Numerous techniques have been used to assess gravestone decay and each is subject to different sources of error. To minimize error we focus only on marble gravestones that use the flush lead lettering technique. Decay of the marble leaves the lead lettering raised above the surface, and the distance can be measured with the use of a digital micrometer. Gravestone decay can be used to quantify the spatial and temporal distribution of acid deposition. Our gravestone decay database consists of 1417 individual measurements on 591 tombstones in 33 cemeteries and covers the period from 1860 to 2010. Sites range from industrial and residential areas to rural settings. These data allow us to establish the natural background rates of decay, the effects of urban/residential expansion, and the efficacy of environmental regulations. Decay rates vary from a minimum of 0.2 mm/century in remote rural areas to nearly 3.0 mm/century in the Birmingham City Center. The data are corrected for environmental variables, converted to acid deposition rates, and plotted at 10-year intervals from 1890 to 2010.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)139-154
Number of pages16
JournalAtmospheric Environment
StatePublished - Feb 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Partial funding for this study was provided by the University of Minnesota Duluth through discretionary funds provided by University Honors and the Swenson College of Science and Engineering , and through the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program. The authors would like to thank Rob Inkpen, University of Portsmouth, UK, for a day of helpful discussion and several follow-ups. Special thanks to Diane and Chris Rance and Liz Ross for their logistical support, help, and friendship. We also gratefully acknowledge the insightful comments and editorial remarks of two anonymous reviewers.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Elsevier Ltd.


  • Acid deposition
  • Air quality
  • Gravestone decay
  • United Kingdom
  • West Midlands


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